We depart Ottawa this morning on our scheduled flight to Iqaluit, situated on Baffin Island. Upon arrival into Iqaluit we enjoy a walking tour of the town and board our expedition ship, the Akademik Ioffe in the afternoon. After settling into our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail and cast off to explore one of the most remote places on earth – Baffin Island.
Situated in the Davis Strait, the rocky dome of Monumental Island can be seen from a distance. We explore by Zodiac along the rocky shoreline and hope to encounter polar bears in this vicinity. In good weather a complete circumnavigation of the island is possible. We should see our first large icebergs drifting southward towards Labrador and Newfoundland on the currents of the Davis Strait. Throughout the coming days and rest of the voyage, our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history of Baffin Island and the Canadian Arctic and the locations we plan to visit.
Nestled in the heart of Cumberland Sound and the western gateway to Auyuittuq National Park, the village of Pangniqtuuq is beautifully situated between the mountains and the sea. This remote community is a well-known center for traditional and contemporary arts and crafts – including carvings, prints and textiles. In addition, the Angmarlik Visitor Center has a wonderful interpretive display featuring the lifestyle and history of the Thule and of the modern Inuit.
Sunshine Fjord straddles the Arctic Circle at 66-degrees, 33-minutes north of latitude. Depending on the weather, we might cruise across the Circle on the ship, cross it in the zodiac boats or the more active option maybe to cross the circle on foot. Whichever way, it’s a thrill to be above the Arctic Circle at last! Sunshine Fjord offers terrific hiking opportunities and we have a number of great routes in mind. You may wish to take the extended hike, gaining elevation and offering wonderful views of our surroundings. Or choose to take the less strenuous option along the shoreline. For the sea kayakers, the sheltered waters of the fjord provide great conditions for paddling.
On the eastern coast of Baffin Island, lies one of Canada’s most spectacular National Parks – Auyuittuq. The landscape is dominated by steep and rugged mountain scenery, extensive glacial systems and powerful rivers. In partnership with Parks Canada, we venture into the park with skilled local guides who are able to interpret the flora, fauna, geological and glacial systems which can be found here. It’s a fascinating place experienced by only a few fortunate visitors every season. We plan on hiking and cruising the rocky shorelines looking for wildlife. We also plan a visit to Qikiqtarjuaq, a small settlement which is home to several Inuit families. After an inspiring day of exploration, we continue north along the coastline of Baffin Island, venturing deeper into the Arctic wilderness.
Isabella Bay (Niginganiq) is an important summer habitat and feeding area for endangered bowhead whales. These remarkable marine mammals are able to break sea ice with the crown of their head. Polar bears, ringed seals, Canada geese, snow geese and narwhal are also commonly sighted in this vicinity.
This morning we enter the spectacular Gibb Fjord with towering cliffs all around us. Our expedition ship will seem dwarfed by the giant peaks and snowy glaciers as we cruise slowly along the dark waters. One past guest commented that Gibb Fjord 'was like something out of Lord of the Rings' – and we think you will agree!
Nearing the far north of Baffin Island, we enter a broad channel which is home to the remote Inuit community of Mittimatalik. A highlight is a visit to the Natinnak Center, where a fascinating cultural exhibit showcases aspects of daily life, culture and history of the people of the north. Inuit carvings, jewellery and other traditional craft are on display and purchasing such items from the local artisans is a great way to support the community. Mittimatalik is also the main access point to the pristine wilderness of Sirmilik National Park. This jewel in the crown of Canada's Arctic Park system, features spectacular scenery consisting of rugged mountains, ice fields and glaciers, coastal lowlands and sizeable seabird colonies. Even your widest angle camera lens will seem inadequate to capture the vast scenery.
Leaving the wild landscapes of Baffin Island, we cross Lancaster Sound to Devon Island. This broad channel of water has been likened to the wildlife ‘super highway’ of the Arctic. Massive volumes of water from the Atlantic to the east and Pacific to the west, and from the archipelago of islands to the north all mix here, combining to make a rich source of nutrients and food for an abundance of Arctic wildlife. We plan on visiting the old Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) outpost at Dundas Harbur. In the afternoon we reposition the ship into Crocker Bay, home to a substantial glacial system.
Prince Leopold Island is important migratory bird sanctuary, home to thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes. A population of several hundred thousand birds, makes this one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the entire Arctic ecosystem. Given the abundance of food found in the nutrient-rich waters here, we often sight beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales, several species of seal as well as polar bears.
Our final shore landing - Beechey Island, is a place of great historic significance and a suitable finale to our expedition. It is here that Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last ‘comfortable’ winter in 1845 before disappearing into the icy vastness, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions that lasted almost three decades. The mystery of what happened to Franklin was partially solved in September 2014, when a joint Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition, found the long-lost Franklin shipwreck, HMS Erebus in the Victoria Strait. Our expedition played a vital role in the search by carrying underwater search equipment on our ship as well as scientists, historians, researchers, dignitaries and sponsors of this history-defining mission. A trip ashore at Beechey Island to visit the grave markers on a remote windswept beach, is a thrilling experience for history buffs and for many it will be a highlight of the expedition. We return to the ship and this evening enjoy a special dinner attended by the captain. It’s a great time to reflect on the wildlife, history and dramatic scenery of the High Arctic.
Our expedition comes to an end as we arrive into Resolute. The town is named after the British ship HMS Resolute which became trapped in ice and abandoned here in 1850 while searching for the lost Franklin expedition. A weather station and airstrip made Resolute a strategic outpost during the time of the Cold War. After arriving in Resolute we disembark the Akademik Ioffe and bid farewell to our crew and fellow passengers. We transfer to the airport for our flight south, to Edmonton. A transfer is also provided from the airport into a central downtown location.
Note: Polar exploration can be unpredictable. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a ‘guide only’ and may change. The ship’s captain in conjunction with the expedition leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximize our encounters with wildlife. Decades of experience spent exploring these waterways mean we have a large number of outstanding landing sites and Zodiac cruising locations to consider, even when the weather conditions may not be ideal. A flexible approach is something we encourage you to bring to the ship.
* Itinerary may be subject to change